Thursday, November 6, 2014

The persecution of Taslima Nasrin (1995)

From the February 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard

Religious groups have a notorious history of stifling dissent by any means possible. And if, in Britain, nonbelievers are no longer persecuted, tortured and killed it is because the superstitious myths and rituals with which religion cloaks itself are no longer taken seriously by the majority of the population. But there are countries where the heads of religion are still able to wield considerable power and influence. To belong to a different faith or to question that religion and try to have a reasoned discussion instead of blindly accepting its "rules" is to take great personal risks.

The humanist and feminist author, 32-year-old Taslima Nasrin has fallen foul of Muslim fundamentalists in her native Bangladesh because her novel Lajja published in 1993 depicts Hindus mistreated by Muslims. In an interview given to the Calcutta newspaper the Statesman she stated that the Sharia law (the Muslim religious law which makes women second-class citizens) needed reforming but this was misquoted as her saying that the Koran needed reform and fuelled fundamentalist anger still further.

Arrest warrant
Fundamentalist Muslims demonstrated in the streets threatening to kill her, and the Bangladeshi government, afraid of public disorder, succumbed to threats and issued a warrant for her arrest under article 295(a) of the Penal Code for "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings". This law was introduced by the British during the days of the British Empire and was intended to prevent inter-religious fighting which would have made Asia more difficult to govern. Ironically, it was now being used to further religious differences and fundamentalist hatred.

After the warrant was issued for her arrest on 4 June 1993, Nasrin went into hiding for a couple of months before appearing in court in Dhaka on 3 August, accompanied by her lawyer, Sara Hossain. She was granted bail. It has been claimed that the secular Bangladeshi government wanted to give her an opportunity to leave the country. This is quite possible given the widespread international support that she received, since her continued persecution by either fundamentalists or the Bangladeshi courts would have created further embarrassment for the Bangladeshi government.

PEN, the international writers' organisation, offered assistance and within a week Nasrin fled to Sweden where she was granted political asylum. Shortly after she appeared in Stockholm to receive the Kurt Tucholsky prize which is given annually to a writer in exile. In 1992 it was awarded to Salman Rushdie, also in hiding from fundamentalist death threats.

Fundamentalist insanity
In accepting the prize, Nasrin thanked the Swedish government for granting her asylum and pledged to continue her fight against "fundamentalist insanity . . . which is spreading darkness in the world". She is trapped in a conflict between liberal secularism and religious fundamentalism, with, the extreme Islamic group, Jamaat stating that "the blood lust will have to be satisfied elsewhere".

Nasrin had criticised Islamic law on previous occasions; in an interview for the New York Times she stated that: "some men would keep women in chains-veiled, illiterate and in the kitchen". She added: "There are 60 million women in my country, not more than 15 per cent of them can read and write. How can Bangladesh become a modern country and find its place in the world when it is dragged backwards by reactionary attitudes towards half its people? It is my belief that politics cannot be based on religion if our women are to be free".

In an interview for Index (September/October 1994) Nasrin was asked if she wanted to revise the Koran. She stated:
"The Quran can no longer serve as the basis of our law. A thousand years ago it may have been useful for fending off barbarism. But we live in modern times, the era of science and technology. The Quran has become superfluous. It stands in the way of progress and the way of women's emancipation."
Asked of she still considered herself a Muslim, Taslima Nasrin replied:
"No, I am an atheist. All forms of religion are anachronistic to me. I dream of a world without religion. Religion gives birth to fundamentalism as surely as the seed gives birth to the tree. We can tear the tree down, but if the seed remains it will produce another tree. While the seed remains we cannot root out fundamentalism."
Religion is the badge of the mentally-enslaved. It uses a cloak of mystification to reinforce its authority by promising a mythical afterlife as a reward for blind obedience and by making threats of eternal punishment, backed up by intimidation and persecution for those who do not submit. It has been a useful tool in the hands of the ruling classes to keep their subjects subservient.
Carl Pinel

Capitalising on Disease (2014)

The Material World Column from the November 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
The World Health Organization (WHO) now estimates that the Ebola death toll in West Africa had surpassed 4,000—though it warned that the statistics ‘vastly underestimate’ the true scale of the epidemic. Hundreds of health workers have died in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, three of the countries where the disease has hit particularly hard. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released new estimates that Ebola may infect 1.4 million people in Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of January. WHO said in a statement:
‘The Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa is the most severe acute public health emergency seen in modern times. Never before in recorded history has a biosafety level four pathogen infected so many people so quickly, over such a broad geographical area, for so long. The current situation is so dire that, in several areas that include capital cities, many of these common diseases and health conditions are barely being managed at all’ (commondreams.org/news/2014/09/27).
Properly called Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF), the virus damages the cells it hijacks so badly that victims often bleed from every opening of the body. This epidemic has been compounded by a shortage of health workers and facilities plus a belated and insufficient response from the international community. A relative handful of courageous medical workers have struggled to control the spread of Ebola and to treat people with the virus. Many of these people have themselves died.
In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Doctors Jeremy Farrar and Peter Piot wrote that the epidemic ‘was an avoidable crisis.’ They go on to write ‘We are concerned that without a massive increase in the response, way beyond what is being planned in scale and urgency, alongside the complementary deployment of novel interventions (in particular the use of safe and effective vaccines and therapeutics), it will prove impossible to bring this epidemic under control’ (commondreams.org/news/2014/09/23).
Heeding such warnings many nations are sending medical teams and mobilising their militaries to set in place treatment centres.
In a world that is dominated by capitalism, no drug has ever been approved to treat Ebola, and little research has been done although the disease was first identified in 1976. An article in the New Yorker explained that ‘diseases that mostly affect poor people in poor countries aren't a research priority, because it’s unlikely that those markets will ever provide a return’. The World Bank President Jim Yong Kim co-authored an article in the Washington Post which said that ‘If the Ebola epidemic devastating the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had instead struck Washington, New York or Boston, there is no doubt that the health systems in place could contain and then eliminate the disease.’
We have now witnessed the near-panic reaction of some elements of the press as Ebola has indeed broken out in the USA and Spain. All over the world, airports are now screening passengers from affected regions and hospitals drawing up action plans to cope if indeed what some say is inevitable does happen.
Nevertheless, there is a tendency to blame the pathology of the disease (and the victims) for the epidemic. John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, places this crisis in its proper context, explaining 'We must also tackle the scandal of the unwillingness of the pharmaceutical industry to invest in research to produce treatments and vaccines, something they refuse to do because the numbers involved are, in their terms, so small and don't justify the investment. This is the moral bankruptcy of capitalism acting in the absence of an ethical and social framework.’ He said the international community needed to be ‘shamed into real commitment’ to address the ‘poverty and environmental squalor’ in which epidemics can thrive' (Link).
Previous Ebola outbreaks used to be restricted to the rural areas in poor African countries. In other words, there are no large markets or high profits for the pharmaceutical industry. From a pure business perspective, the Ebola market used to be tiny compared to other viral diseases like influenza. Investors are more interested in a company that can prove it has an effective cure for influenza and sell to the global market for many years. Billions in revenues would be generated annually, driving stock prices far above those that could be achieved via rare diseases like Ebola.
It is not beyond human capacity to contain or defeat Ebola in West Africa since it is spread primarily by contact with victims and is not as easily contracted as airborne diseases such as SARS. Ebola victims are infectious only when they exhibit the actual debilitating symptoms and then they can be quarantined. In Nigeria due to a more developed health infrastructure, health workers were able to utilise their contact tracing teams, which were originally set up to detect and treat polio, to effectively stop its spread (theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2014/oct/07). Decades of civil war in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea has ensured that their health systems are fractured and in disrepair.
Barack Obama raised in a television interview the worrying scenario that Ebola could mutate and become much more communicable. The virus already exists in at least four forms and it could happen although this need not be a mutation to a more lethal form but can be into a more benign mutation. But let’s imagine that Ebola undergoes a mutation that increases its ability to spread and then let us pretend that it then kills, on average, 40,000 to 50,000 Americans and at least a quarter million people globally every year. Now, for the capitalist class and the pharmaceutical industry, in particular, that is where you invest your money for a healthy (sic) return!
ALJO

Left, right — strange bedfellows (1971)

From the August 1971 issue of the Socialist Standard

It has often been pointed out by Socialists that the conception of left and right wings in politics is a snare and a delusion serving only to con the working class into thinking that there is some sort of real choice between the major parties. In practice there are over 600 MPs in Parliament who all have one thing very much in common — and that the only thing that counts. They all support capitalism. Half of them make some sort of noises from time to time to suggest that they have an idea they might be Socialists (or would like you to think they are). It is hard to imagine how they can ever have the cheek to make such claims in future in light of an advert that appeared in June 7 in that great working class organ, the Times.

This expensive piece of propaganda was not exactly for Socialism. It was a denunciation of the projected entry of this country into the Common Market and in case anyone has an idea that this argument could have anything to do with Socialism, it needs only to be mentioned that it contained a host of signatures of well-known Tory MPs. Not exactly the chaps you would expect to associate with Socialists. Particularly when you see that among them are some of the better known Tory backwoodsmen, rabid reactionaries like Soref, Montagu, Bell. One cannot imagine the reason Enoch himself was not in the list but there is no doubt that the arch-racialist would have found congenial company there. And he would also have found the arch leftist, Michael Foot, as ever was. A strange aberration on his part? Certainly not, for he has got all his pseudo-socialist creeps with him, all the great Tribune heroes, Mikardo, Mendelsohn, Allaun, Orme etc, etc ad nauseam. The anti-marketeers held a meeting in the Central Hall where the great leftists and rightists shared a platform to signify their common interest in the future of British Capitalism Ltd.

Who could have thought that only a year or two ago, when the party that these lefties belong to was in charge of the management of British Capitalism Ltd., that the then Managing Director of the firm, a chap called Wilson, along with his deputy Brown, were hawking Britain's application to join the Market round the capitals of Europe like a couple of clapped-out commercial travellers? The Labour Party was so keen ("we mean business" said Wilson; what else would a "socialist" like him mean?) that they sent their twin stars on this trip even though it was clear at the time that the Head Buyer, name of De Gaulle, was going to slam the door in their faces. And at the time of writing, even Wilson himself, who led the great crusade into Europe during the whole of this tenure of power, has not come out in support of the same crusade under the new M.D., Heath. He has chosen to sit on the fence as long as he can with a cynicism that even hardened political correspondents in the newspapers find hard to swallow. Who knows? Maybe by the time this appears, Wilson will have decided that there are more votes in opposing the Market. Maybe Enoch is waiting to join him on the platform. The example of Foot and Mouth joining hands with Soref and Bell should be example enough that left and right are capitalist sisters under their skins. (Some of us are old enough to remember the picture in '39 of Molotov and Ribbentrop shaking hands; the picture that launched a myriad corpses).

The real truth is that the lefties are merely safety valves to head off working class discontent. Can you imagine the Times printing a leader devoted to the praise of Foot if Lord Thomson's minions really thought he was a socialist — a man who stood for the expropriation of Lord Thomson and all his class — as they did during the election?

As to the Market issue, we can but repeat what we have said before. This is an issue for the capitalist class, for their leaders and their stooges. Any difference (joining or staying out) to the workers of this country or France or German would be marginal indeed. The interest of the working class of the whole world is to abolish the very concept of a market economy in its entirety and build a world where wealth is produced for people to enjoy. That is a task that lefties will never perform. For the workers of the world it's a case of do it yourself.
L. E. Weidberg


The end of utopia? (1991)

From the December 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

NO MORE UTOPIAS—this was the bold headline above an article in the European section of the Guardian on 27 September written by Norberto Bobbio and which had originally appeared in the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

Bobbio thinks that the collapse of what he calls "the communist regimes" in eastern Europe and, particularly Russia, means the end of communism as an idea which has persisted in one form or another for 2000 years.

And he seems to know what communism (we also call it socialism—the two words mean the same) means:
"The communist ideal is about forming a society which is radically different from any that has gone before, a society based on the elimination of private property. The latter is condemned as being the cause of all the ills afflicting mankind, from minor disputes over boundaries to the great wars that have turned the whole world upside down. It is also about setting up a regime based on common ownership, if not of all goods, at least of those that form the major source of wealth and of man's dominion over man. Right or wrong this is communism".
That is sound enough but he then spoils it by claiming that the Bolshevik seizure of power in Russia in 1917 was "the first major attempt to achieve a communist society in the genuine sense of the term, a society in which private property would be abolished and replaced by the almost total collectivisation of a country with a population of millions".

This is nonsense because even Lenin recognised that socialism was impossible in such a backward country as Russia. All the Bolsheviks could do was to hope that revolutions in the developed European countries would come to their aid and, in the meantime, they would begin to modernise Russia by introducing state capitalism. They certainly didn't think that socialism could be established in one country. That idea came later.

So there was no attempt by the Bolsheviks to abolish private property. Even their promise of equal wages, which has nothing to do with socialism anyway, was quickly dropped and large differentials in income were encouraged instead, while the Bolsheviks (who became the Communist Party) made sure that all property came under their direct control and, in effect, ownership.

Bobbio's unhistorical approach is clearly shown when he compares Thomas More's Utopia with state capitalist Russia. He recounts how in Utopia the traveller who has discovered "the happy island where common ownership is rigorously observed" defends it from sceptics who argue that it cannot work because of human nature—greed, laziness, etc—by telling them "you talk like that because you haven't seen what I have seen". It is impossible now, says Bobbio, to give such a reply any more because "no one who has visited a communist country can now say come and see, then you can talk". What connection can there possibly be between Thomas More's 16th century ideal society and 20th century Russian state capitalism?

To those who insist that there has never been communism in Russia Bobbio replies that it is not enough to say this:
"You have to say why it is so, and suggest which other paths you can follow in order to avoid past mistakes. I don't know of there is anyone around today who can provide answers to these uncertainties".
Yes, signor Bobbio, there are and we will! The Socialist Party and its companion parties overseas have always insisted that communism/socialism can only be established when the essential conditions for it are present. For one thing, the productive forces of society must be developed to the point where they can provide plenty for all. Capitalism itself has long ago solved that problem for us. For another, the majority of the world's workers—all the people who have to work for a wage or salary and in whose interests socialism will be—must agree that it is both possible and desirable. Socialism could not possibly have come about in such an economically undeveloped country as Russia where the vast majority of the population neither understood nor desired it.

The Socialist Party welcomes the collapse of Russian-style "communism" as a significant step in clearing the way for genuine communism to which it has been a serious obstacle for over 70 years. And the idea of a classless, moneyless, worldwide society of production for use will not go away because something entirely different has failed. The proof of this is—and will be—the existence of its advocates in many parts of the world.
Vic Vanni

At the Graveside of Karl Marx (1938)

From the April 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

On March 14th, 1883, Karl Marx breathed his last. He was buried a few days later in the same grave as his wife in the cemetery at Highgate, at that time a suburban part of the great metropolis of London. Although I am a Londoner by birth, and have lived within a few miles of Highgate, although I have been an admirer and an exponent of Marx's teachings for many years, I have not, until March 14th of this year, visited Marx's tomb.

In a cemetery which abounds, like most places of its kind, with profound human emotions, expressed in the form of stones, some marked by a bourgeois relationship by their expressive style, only to bring out in bold relief the proletarian character of those remaining, the grave of Marx is conspicuously of the proletarian order. The class division in modern society cannot fail to reveal itself in the graveyard. I could not help reflecting, as I stood in this thickly depopulated place, what a wealth of philosophy could be made to focus upon so small a portion of "The Good Earth."

For more than half a century after this man had ceased his life's work on behalf of the exploited toilers of the world, the ideas, the theories for which he, to all intents and purposes, gave his life, still circulate and animate in some way or another millions of our class, aye, and the opponents of our class, too, the capitalists throughout the world. Further did I reflect to recall the words of his life-long friend and collaborator, Frederick Engels, who, in a letter to old Wilhelm Liebnecht, on the day of Marx's death, said:
"Although I have seen him to-night stretched out on his bed, the face rigid in death, I cannot grasp the thought that this genius should have ceased to fertilise with his powerful thoughts the proletarian movement of both worlds."
Engels herein expressed a sound sentiment. The influence of Marx goes on, and the bourgeoisie, with their henchmen, do still find in his theories the "haunting spectre" signalling the downfall of their social domination.

About fifty or sixty people, including another comrade of the S.P.G.B. and myself, were present at the graveside on the above-mentioned day. Most of them appeared to be members or sympathisers of the Communist Party. Although a comparatively small gathering, it was chiefly organised by Communists, who had appointed two speakers to speak to those assembled around the grave. Apart from eloquent tributes paid to the memory of Marx, we, of course, had to hear the usual nonsense about his theories having been established in a sixth part of the earth, Russia, and a statement from one of the speakers that if Marx were living to-day he would be writing for The Daily Worker.

Poor Marx! Whatever he did to deserve this strange "tribute" I cannot think. Can anyone outside of the Communist International?

What Marx would be doing, were he still amongst us, is an idle enough question, in all conscience. We can but think that Marx's whole life work was directed towards something totally different from, and in opposition to, the present torturous and murderous state-machine such as Stalin and his gang controlling Russia. The suggestion that Marx would be writing for what, in fact, is little more than a social reformist snippety-bit species of journalese, plus a horse-racing, football pooling "Daily," is the harshest thing said about Marx for many a long day.
ROBERTUS.


News from the Branches (1962)

From the August 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard

Good news from Glasgow Branch which is going strong propounding Socialism to workers in Scotland. Eleven outdoor meetings were held in June, three of them in Edinburgh. Audiences averaged 100 and literature sales totaled £5. A collection of £3 was taken at an indoor meeting and £5 at the outdoor ones. Average attendances of members was nine.

Swansea Branch held a successful debate with the Liberal Party represented by R. Gool. The SPGB representative our comrade Harris gave a critical survey of the history of the Liberals demonstrating how their reformist policy was of no value to the working-class, and that there was no alternative to Socialism if workers wanted a better way of life. The Liberal attacked the idea of the "class-war" and belittled the Party because it was small and therefore ineffective. He argued that the Liberals were concerned with "day-to-day" issues and gave a list of reforms which he claimed would solve all the problems of the British. Good questions were put from an attentive audience who were clearly sympathetic to the Socialist case. Literature sales, 16s. and a promise was made by a member of the audience to donate her late father's books by Marx and Engels. More indoor meetings are planned especially in view of the interest shown at this debate.

Coventry Group have linked up with Birmingham Branch to conduct propaganda meetings in the Midlands, the first of which was held in June. This lasted for two hours with an audience never below 100 and at times 200. Other meetings will be held in Coventry and surrounding towns. SS subscribers have been notified of future meetings. The local library ban on the SS has been lifted as from June.

The newly formed Bromley Group is already very active busily canvassing the constituency with introductory leaflets and following up with sales of the SS and are finding the method very successful. Comrade May addressed a meeting at the local library. Advertising was made by handbills and posters. (Poor positions were chosen by the bill-posters so members quickly placed more in prominent positions). A van literally covered with posters for the meeting was placed in a busy shopping area on a Saturday. The same was intended on the Monday but was met by a police reception committee. A challenging letter in the local press failed to evoke any response from the Colossi to whom it referred. A contingent of CND supporters attended the meeting and were challenged to debate. Socialist Standard and pamphlets were sold and a collection of £2 taken and a report appeared in the local press. A lively and very promising start.

Bloomsbury Branch have sadly learned of the death of Nat Posner, who had been ill for some time. A member for over twenty years, he had known and supported the Party a long time and had interested workers in Socialism for more than forty years. Some of these joined the Party thirty years ago becoming very active in propaganda work. Originally working as a group at their place of work they sold thousands of Socialist Standards and pamphlets and took regular weekly collections for the Party from sympathizers over a period of years. Thus, our comrade Posner by quietly and patiently convincing others, set off a chain of socialist activity. He was a frequent chairman at outdoor meetings especially at Hyde Park; a consistent and staunch member, he will be missed.
P. H.

The fall and fall of the Labour Party (2001)

Book Review from the July 2001 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Strange Eventful History: Democratic Socialism in Britain. By Edmund Dell, Harper Collins, 2000.

Last year's centenary of the foundation of the Labour Representation Committee led to a number of histories of the Labour movement being published. Edmund Dell's was one such, steering away from the more self-congratulatory tone of some of the other offerings. In fact it is an excellent account of the Labour Party written by an ex-Labour MP and Cabinet member.

Clearly describing the limitations of Labour in government, Dell takes the reader through the main political currents of the Labour movement from its inception to New Labour. From the Webbs and Keir Hardie through MacDonald, G.D.H. Cole, R.H. Tawney, Harold Laski, Evan Durbin, Bevin, Attlee, Cripps, Bevan and co., to Gaitskill, Crosland, Wilson, Callaghan, Jenkins, Healey, Benn and Foot, up to Kinnock, Hattersley, Brown, Blair and Mandleson – from Labour's claim to be able to advance to what it called socialism (basically state-managed capitalism) through the control of political power, through to Attlee's partially nationalising government beset by currency concerns, Wilson's liberal and state welfare extending government which was also beset by currency crises and inflation. Callaghan's government which ended Labour's commitment to full employment and attempts at Keynesian economic management in the face of an insupportable borrowing requirement, to Kinnock, Smith and Blair's final rejection of anything that might be considered at odds to the interests of capital. All the way the leaders tried to drag the membership away from any hope that Labour could deliver anything much different from any other party managing capitalism.

Time and failure led the Labour Party:
"further from socialism [state capitalism] and nearer to, and eventually beyond , the acceptance of capitalism ... Starting often from a far left, or even Marxist, orientation, they would move through a series of third ways from left to right, from radical intentions to an acceptance of capitalism modified only by a wish to root-out its greater evils. In many cases even the wish to undertake serious reform disappeared."
Dell tells the story as the critical insider, having gone to the Labour Party, via the “Communist” Party in the 1930s, from business as a manager for ICI and being unconvinced of the core of “Old” Labour political economy:
"My experience of industrial management made me sceptical of the practicality of traditional socialism [state capitalism], and of economic planning. But I regarded the Labour party as the humane party and I did not feel that to remain a member I had to endorse Clause Four which, in any case, seemed no longer an expression of serious Labour intentions."
What exactly Dell did endorse is never clear as, despite persistent attacks on the gap between Labour's aims, ideas and reality and on the personalities of the Labour movement, he remained a member of the Wilson and Callaghan governments and later joined the Liberal-SDP Alliance in the 1980s. Perhaps he stayed a Labour member as a humanitarian or some such but at any rate, very early on in the book, Dell declares that because the Labour Party failed to bring about a socialist society, socialism is also dead:
"As a new form of society, socialism was never a practical project in Britain. Democratic socialism was a mirage, beautiful in the eyes of the beholder, but beyond reach. The hope that by democratic means one form of society, capitalism, could be replaced by another, socialism, proved to be nothing other than one of the more striking human self-deceptions ... the insurmountable obstacle to democratic socialism was democracy, and democracy would have killed socialism's chances in Britain even unassisted by the ineptitude of successive Labour governments in managing the economy."

Nationalisation not socialism ...
It certainly is the case that socialism cannot be arrived at through electing Labour governments. It is also the case that the Labour Party was created only to represent trade unions (never particularly radical) in parliament and that when Labour adopted “socialism” in the form of Clause Four in 1918, it was only support for nationalisation of the means of production (of the so-called “commanding heights” of the economy). Quite what Labour hoped to achieve by bringing industry under state instead of private ownership was not very clear apart from vague and fuzzy ends of “greater equality” and centralised planning these were apparently going to transform capitalism into something that could be controlled by the state (via the myriad economists and managers that had an interest in perpetuating the myth that their expertise was all that was required for growth and prosperity). This, surprisingly enough, didn't happen. On transferring coal, steel, iron, fuel, power and transport to state ownership (with weighty compensation to their previous owners), after 1945 the performance of British industry in the world market still remained declining and working conditions remained mostly unaltered for those employed by the state sector. Indeed, Dell notes:
"Nationalisation was a technocratic act, placing industries under the control of managers thought better capable of running them than their predecessors, though they were often the same persons."

The remarkable blind faith of the Labour Party in nationalisation began its decline from the Attlee government. And this decline in the faith of nationalisation as somehow moving towards a new society is associated, not just by Dell, as being the death of socialism. There are still a few in the Labour Party and in the ranks of the hotchpotch of Trotskyists, Leninists and “Old” Labour in the so-called Socialist Alliance who would still claim that it was not nationalisation that was at fault but Morrisonian nationalisation (that based on the model adopted by Herbert Morrison) and that vast swathes of British industry should still be nationalised. But such methods clearly have nothing to do with socialism. As the Socialist Party has consistently shown since 1904, “public” ownership as favoured by the left of capitalism is simply state ownership and a society with a high percentage of state- compared to privately-owned capital is clearly state-capitalism and does not represent a new form of society. Social (common) ownership means that the means of living (production) are owned by, and its products accessible to, all, with no need for artificial systems of exchange (money). Ownership of the means of production by individual capitalists or by the state makes no difference. Where goods or services are produced for exchange values (for sale) and not for use, where the majority work for wages and a minority (either capitalists or the state) siphon off the surplus value (profit) produced by working people, there is capitalism.

In this sense the declining faith in nationalisation and the Labour Party to effect real change is a positive development for real socialism as the results of Labour in government can be seen for what they are – management of capitalism with a touch of, not always beneficial, reformist tinkering. The problem and challenge is that those in the Labour movement and its surrounds, such as Dell, persist in perpetuating the myth that nationalisation is socialism (the standard dictionary definition) and that as its influence as an attractive option for capitalism declines, so does socialism. The fact is that Labour was never socialist and for that reason it is absurd to claim that socialism is dead while it has never been put before most of the electorate, let alone been a choice in any but few places in a handful of elections. The myth of nationalisation as an answer to the problems of capitalism is more or less dead but socialism as a political movement is yet to come, aided it is hoped by the abandonment of the false hopes of Labourism's palliatives.

... nor is the Welfare State
It may be argued that the state welfare and social security provisions initiated by the Attlee and Wilson governments have benefited the worst-off sections of the working class and that municipal housing and suchlike, often but not always initiated by Labour in local government, have done likewise. This may be the case for the very worst-off who may now find a very basic social security net, albeit one which now forces claimants to take the best job on offer whatever it might be and for whatever pay. But as we all know, there are still many homeless and destitute in every town and city and, according to government statistics (and the government has no interest in increasing the figure) one-third of all children live in conditions of poverty. For most members of the working class very real destitution and poverty still lies just around the corner. Further, low pay and job insecurity, so-called “flexible” working conditions, are on the increase as the power of states to regulate capitalism diminishes – global capital increasingly asserting its power over states who need capital inflow more than capital needs them, thus pushing down the level of basic protection of labour that can be expected to be enforced by any given state.

In Britain the post-1945 welfare state (implemented to streamline existing state welfare rather than creating anything particularly new), the National Health Service, Family Allowances, the Social Security Act, have all come under attack in the last couple of decades, reducing its stated purpose from being a universal security blanket for all to a system of benefits for the worst-off. It is the case that many workers would be better-off without them anyway, given the tendency of the presence of state benefits and allowances to reduce wage levels (indeed Barbara Castle consistently appealed to trade unions in the 1960s and 1970s to take account of the “social wage” that the Labour Party had provided in the form of state social security, pensions and so on, in order to try to inhibit wage demands). The simple case is that systems of social security and welfare do not change the character of capitalism. Poverty hasn't been reformed away and poor housing, ill-health, unemployment and job insecurity remain the very real concerns of most working people. Meanwhile the rich are still getting richer and the failure of Labour's attempts to “redistribute” wealth seem the more amusing for New Labour's being “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich” – if you can't beat them join them, eh Peter?

Dell's account runs from Labour's beginnings, to the apex of its hopes and down the whole slippery slope of disappointed expectations and wasted efforts. The reader at times feels sorry for this bunch of radical optimists, having to chop and change their views and, through experience of their failures, mutate into the sort of political economists (though let's not forget the professional politicians climbing the greasy pole) that the Labour Party once, in the fast fading past, professed to despise. Dell shows very well the limits of a government running capitalism to control the economic and social forces acting upon it. But his conclusion, that socialism is dead, comes from his assumption that socialism is “what Labour governments do” or are prepared to do.

In the Prologue Dell sets out three main currents of thought in what he calls socialism, that is the Labour Party – a vision of “a better society which would replace capitalism and which would be characterised by greater equality, common ownership, and production for use rather than profit”, a belief in democracy, and a managerial element which believed that the expertise of economists could transform capitalism through centralisation and nationalisation. It does not seem to occur to Dell that the managerial strand to Labour's thinking contradicted the socialist vision or democracy, despite its claim to be able to run capitalism better and its professed need for centralisation. But then the Labour Party was always more concerned with getting elected, with what they suppose is “doing something”, than in progressing the cause of socialism.

If they could claim that they could eradicate capitalism's ills without the effort of persuading the majority of the socialist vision and the necessity to act for themselves, then socialism could be arrived at without a great deal of disruption, without the need to “make socialists”, to educate a socialist majority and consciousness. In this way what socialist vision many Labour pioneers had and what desire to advance democracy there may have been, were rapidly pushed to the back of minds of activists by the need to gain political power and enact their economic miracle – much in the way that William Morris, in the 1880s and 90s had suggested it would. Thus, gradually, what emerged from years of reformist efforts was not a slowly evolving socialism but a Labourism which increasingly judged itself by the success of the one thing it could do in government – manage capitalism; all reformist baggage being abandoned in the pursuit of Labour's desire to manage capitalism better than the other lot.
Colin Skelly